The climate crisis has us questioning where people live, work, and how they get between the two. We’ve known for decades that low density sub-urban living is horrible for the environment (and people’s mental health) because it detaches people from each other due to car-based transportation. Many have argued that skyscrapers are the needed alternative because high density living is good. Architects Declare have released a letter questioning this reasoning, they argue that six stories is the ideal height for people and for the planet. A city of six story buildings is good density, the best example being Paris.
The unavoidable fact is that, in terms of resource efficiency, the embodied carbon in their construction and energy consumption in use, skyscrapers are an absurdity. The amount of steel required to resist high windspeeds, the energy required to pump water hundreds of metres above ground and the amount of floorspace taken up by lifts and services make them one of the most inefficient building types in a modern metropolis. It could also be argued that skyscrapers further detach us from any meaningful relationship with the natural world. Above about ten storeys, balconies don’t work because it is simply too windy, so high-rise apartments are hermetically sealed – as isolated from nature as possible.
The future will use algae everywhere so architects are examining ways to incorporate these versatile eukaryotic organisms into the built environment. Architects are already engaged in designing buildings to support algae growth and incorporating third party algae systems on to a building. Now we’re seeing architects think of ways to design buildings that are designed around algae and incorporate algae into all aspects of the structure. Over at Architeizer they have put together some really groovy algae architecture mashups.
In order to achieve minimal environmental impact, the studio envisions a two-fold approach to sustainability. Their proposal not only introduces algae as a way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions but also proposes a system that can be incorporated into existing buildings.
The concept is applied in a rethinking of the Marina City Towers in Chicago. The architects imagine retrofitting the famous towers with a synthetic closed loop that works at three levels, carbon sequestration from the air to feed the bioreactor, absorption by vegetal photosynthesis and energy saving through solar and wind energy creation. This bioreactor, placed as tubes at the top of the building and the parking lot below, will produce enough energy to satisfy all the building’s power needs.
Global warming is bringing more intense heat waves to our urban environments which means cities will need to adapt to the new temperatures. Indeed, regular readers will recognize a lot of ways cities can mitigate extreme heat from painting roads white to regulating green roofs. Over at Arch Daily they have compiled a neat list of good ways cities are exploring to stay cool.
Current popular building practices lack a nuanced approach to sustainability due to years of it being culturally ok to put future generations into ecological debt. Thankfully, things are starting to change and architects want to build a sustainable future, and fast. Prior to mass industrialization buildings were constructed using locally sourced materials, making them more sustainable with a relatively small carbon footprint. As globalization increased the techniques of using local materials were forgotten and now architects are calling for everybody in their field to share best practices around locally sourced material and techniques.
Architects are at the forefront of our drive to lessen the impact humans have on the environment. While the agenda has stayed relatively constant since I was at school, the sustainability goalposts have moved â€“ and narrowed. A building designed as zero-carbon just half a decade ago would now be considered â€˜operationallyâ€™ zero-carbon at best, whereas â€˜whole-life carbonâ€™ calculations now consider the buildingâ€™s demolition and waste disposal. Our thinking, designs and architectural goals must evolve, but things are evolving at such a speed; how on earth are architects to keep up?
â€˜Renewable and sustainable technologies change very quickly, as does our understanding of sustainable outcomes, so it is important to try to keep on top of it,â€™ says Tate Harmer partner Jerry Tate. â€˜We need to communicate to each other in our industry, sharing best practice and our experiences to help get to the right answers.â€™
Buildings suck up a lot of energy and thus are massive contributors to our collective carbon footprint. After they are built ongoing operational costs are incurred, and the costs are greater on buildings which are inefficiently deigned and built. This has led a team in the states to call for a new approach towards how construction functions in the nation. A green approach to build green is the dream.
Of course, the best thing we can do is work to reduce our demand on new buildings and re-purpose existing infrastructure to be more efficient.
With public demand growing for scalable climate solutions from all levels of government, policymakers can work together to transition the United States from a patchwork of requirements to a set of dynamic, performance-based policies that enable rapid decarbonization throughout a buildingâ€™s lifecycle. Zero-carbon building codes for new construction address the emissions from buildings constructed each year, while emerging building performance standards and policies can address existing buildings.